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CARA says yes to Lepman project

Written March 19th, 2014 by Hasso Hering
The Fortmiller Building in Wednesday afternoon's sunshine.

The Fortmiller Building in Wednesday afternoon’s sunshine.

Four townhouses are planned for the lot on the other side of these cars.

Four townhouses are planned for the lot on the other side of these cars.

Albany’s urban renewal board has approved financial aid for a project to renovate the old Fortmiller Building at 420 Third Ave. S.W. and build four townhouses next door. Members if the Central Albany Revitalization Area board Wednesday had lots of questions for applicant Scott Lepman but eventually endorsed, by voice vote, his request of $336,000 toward a project he estimates will cost more than $1.6 million.

City Councilman Rich Kellum voted no. He had argued for letting banks foreclose on the old building and seeing what happens then. Lepman intends to buy the building, now in foreclosure, before an auction scheduled April 16. (There were one or two other no votes among the 12 board members present, but I couldn’t tell whose they were.)

Lepman and his brother, Spencer, who handles the construction end of their ventures, plan to restore the Fortmiller Building, built in 1930 as a funeral parlor, converted to offices in the 1970s, and lately run down and almost empty. Their plan calls for two offices and nine apartments. And on what now is a narrow parking lot on the building’s west side, they plan to put up four three-story townhouses with offices on the ground floor. It’s the townhouses that represent most of the increase in property value the project would generate.

When some board members appeared dubious, urban renewal director Kate Porsche said this is just the kind of thing urban renewal is meant to support: Not only does it restore an old building that otherwise would likely continue to decay, but it also adds residents and jobs to downtown.

CARA’s investment — a loan that will be forgiven if the project is completed as agreed — likely would pay off in higher property taxes in about 15 years, according to Porsche. The money will come from a $700,000 CARA reserve set aside for public-private partnerships. Lepman gave no timeline for the project but said he’d keep the board posted.

Oscar Hult, who plans to open "The Natty Dresser," acts the part.

Oscar Hult, who plans to open “The Natty Dresser,” acts the part.

The board also endorsed two smaller requests of $10,000 each in its small-grant program. The grants will go to Oscar and Tamalynne Hult toward opening a men’s wear shop in the Masonic Building on First Avenue (they hope to open “The Natty Dresser” in September) and Seth Fortier toward an exterior remodeling of and addition to Fortier Chiropractic Healthcare on Fifth. A request for $7,760 to help pay for new awnings at Two Rivers Market was postponed until the application is made complete. The board’s actions are subject to final approval by the city council acting as the Albany urban renewal agency.

Tom Cordier, the citizen activist, objected to the way the Lepman project was handled. Without it being on the agenda at the last meeting, on March 4, it came before the board then as a preliminary request to see if CARA would even consider it on the 19th. The board said yes and the Lepmans prepared the formal request. (hh)



2 responses to “CARA says yes to Lepman project”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Despite what the city tells us, the choice is not between economic development and letting the city rot. The choice is between central planning, in other words, empowering a few to decide which businesses are worthy of public assistance, and the the free market, which lets free people decide which businesses should succeed or fail.

    Last year city voters spoke out loudly and removed the city’s power to implement unilateral central planning via urban renewal.

    By their actions last night, city officials want to milk their last remaining vestige of power over urban renewal (CARA) and operate contrary to the will of city residents. Thankfully, the power over future urban renewal plans will transfer to Albany voters.

    • Bob Woods says:

      Central Planning? Hogwash!!

      What is occurring is private citizens, those willing to put their own money on the line, using additional leverage available from the community to help meet the risks that THEY are going to take to try and make a profit. They decide the projects they want to pursue. They set the scope, costs and location.

      In return, the community gets refurbished buildings and economic growth.

      Gordon has loudly proclaimed that he wants CARA money to be used for funding police and fire needs. It’s not about CARA, which he now clearly supports, it’s about choosing which projects to support.

      Some infrastructure needs have always been a part of the CARA plan, but it’s not clear that police and fire replacements were ever intended to be included. Because of the public vote that Gordon championed, it now may be likely that the pubic will have to vote before any funding could be provided if police and fire are recommended to be included.

      Who appointed Gordon to be the voice to convey what “city residents want”? No one! He’s never even been elected dog catcher, must less the spokesman for 50,000+ residents. Gordon you have the right to speak for yourself, but no one else without their permission.

      But “Central Planning”, a soviet reference whose bogey man he raises in the light of the crimes being perpetrated by Putin? Hogwash!

      It’s just plain old political spin, designed to deceive in order to gain political advantage.

 

 
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